The woman President Donald Trump has nominated to lead the government’s top consumer watchdog currently oversees the budget for the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice. Now Senate Democrats are asking what she knew about Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy that resulted in the separation of hundreds of children from their parents.
Trump announced plans to nominate Kathy Kraninger to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), replacing acting director Mick Mulvaney, on June 18. Kraninger is currently the associate director for general government programs at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), where she oversees a $250 billion budget across seven cabinet departments, including the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Justice (DOJ).
In a normally functioning White House, associate directors of each issue area within the OMB plays an essential role in policy development, coordination, and implementation in the areas they oversee. Both DHS and DOJ are in Kraninger’s portfolio — and play an important role in Trump’s immigration policies, including family separation
Soon after, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) said she would put a hold on Trump’s pick and move to block the nomination until she could learn more about Kraninger.
Warren and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), ranking member of the Senate Banking Committee, sent a letter to Kraninger asking for information and documents on her role in the development and implementation of Trump’s zero tolerance policy, including a description of her role in crafting the DOJ’s recommendations and DHS’s implementation, her communications with officials, and any analyses or recommendations she may have provided.
Warren also sent a letter to US Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue asking him to reconsider the group’s support for Kraninger’s nomination. Donohue penned an op-ed calling for family separation to end, and Warren wrote she was “baffled” how the chamber could “denounce the appalling child separation policy” and simultaneously support a nominee who was “likely involved” in developing and implementing the policy.
“Democrats and Republicans are outraged by this immoral child separation policy,” Warren said in a statement to Vox. “Before the Senate considers Kathy Kraninger for a big promotion, the American people deserve to know what role she played in ripping more than 2,000 kids from their parents.”
Spokespeople for the CFPB and OMB did not return requests for comment on the matter.
It’s not clear what Kraninger knew about family separations
As associate director of general government programs at OMB, Kraninger would have, presumably, played some sort of a role in the zero tolerance policy, or at least seen what was going on, if the OMB is running as it has under other administrations.
People in her position at the OMB are typically in constant contact about budget and policy issues in their arenas, and since her area specifically is to oversee the Justice and Homeland Security Departments, among others, she would have been aware of what was happening. She would have been involved in discussions about getting extra immigration judges in place, how the zero tolerance policy would roll out, where detained immigrants would be kept, etc.
“The person who was in her position at OMB would typically know about a policy that was this major, and especially that cuts across different departments — here, both DHS and DOJ,” said Seth Grossman, former deputy general counsel and counselor to the secretary at DHS. “In a typical administration, the person would be aware and likely involved.”
It’s not clear, though, whether the OMB is functioning in the way it typically has. The Trump administration is often rife with chaos. And while someone in Kraninger’s position almost certainly would have been involved under the Obama White House, for example, that might not be the case under Trump.
There’s a chance she had no idea what was happening at all, that all of the decisions were made behind closed doors. Or she knew and was involved, or, best case scenario, didn’t do anything to intervene or voiced concerns and was overruled. Whatever the case, Democrats want answers.
“Either she was really involved in all these immigration policies and therefore she owes it to the US Senate and the American people to answer for it, or she wasn’t — and in that case, was not doing her job and also needs to answer for it,” Ken Baer, former associate director and senior adviser to the director at the OMB under the Obama administration, told me. “It’s one or the other.”
Public records show that Kraninger and her assistant, Alexandra Marten, in the months leading up to the announcement of the Trump administration’s zero tolerance policy met with multiple officials from DHS, US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, and US Citizenship and Immigration Services. Marten also met with an executive from the Geo Group, a private prison operator that has profited from Trump’s immigration policies.
It’s not clear what topics were discussed in those meetings. That they took place isn’t atypical or necessarily nefarious. Kraninger’s job is to meet with various stakeholders under her umbrella at OMB.
Kathy Kraninger was a surprising pick
Kraninger was an unexpected pick to head the CFPB. Multiple names were floated as potential nominees before Trump’s announcement, including Ohio lawyer Jonathan Denver and National Credit Union Administration chair J. Mark McWatters, but not Kraninger’s.
She doesn’t have a discernable history or interest in financial services. George Mason University law professor J.W. Verret described her as a “mid-level budget staffer lacking expertise, chosen to lead one of the most powerful agencies in the government,” in an interview with the Wall Street Journal when she was nominated.
There has been some speculation that Kraninger’s nomination is simply a ploy by the Trump administration to keep Mulvaney, a fierce critic of the bureau who has taken multiple measures to roll back its scale, in place for longer. Mulvaney is currently head of the OMB as well.
Kraninger’s nomination resets the clock on Mulvaney’s time as acting director of the CFPB. If she doesn’t get confirmed by the Senate, he gets to stay in. Either way, the confirmation could take months.
“It’s heads we win, tails they lose,” Chuck Gabriel, president of research firm Capital Alpha Partners, though he emphasized he doesn’t think Kraninger is a throw-away candidate and may very well be confirmed, including possibly with some Democratic votes. “I think she reflects the downscaling of the weight and range of movement that Republicans envisioned for that bureau.”
Gabriel added that he’s not sure concerns about Kraninger’s involvement in family separation will stick. “My guess is she will not have played a leading role in that policy and that she is more of a manager than somebody who has ideological policy views like a Stephen Miller,” he said. “She was just in the loop on it, and I don’t think that’s disqualifying.”